Here I’d be mentioning three ways to ruin your story, aka, what you should avoid unless specifically writing to annoy the hell outta me. This is extremely important for you if you are writing so that you don’t make these mistakes. If you’re a reader, see if you can relate with what I’m talking about here and let me know in the comments section how many, if any, of the ways listed here have ever ruined a story for you.
One of my most frequent complaints is regarding description. And here I’d reveal a secret.
Most readers do not care about the designs on the carpet or the color of the drapes. They truly don’t.
I recall how much I had to struggle to get through Brandon Sanderson’s ‘The Way of Kings’. An excellent book, one of the best I’ve ever read, but the descriptive ramblings inclined me more than once to just slam the book shut and let it be. And I’ll explain precisely what the problem with description is.
When the reader reads, s/he simultaneously imagines what is taking place. That is called being engrossed in the flow of the story. The reader constructs his/her own perspective of what the character’s world is like. They require the novel to merely provide the crucial details, and they fill up the rest on their own. A reader would benefit in the process of constructing the world if they are aware of, say the size of the pool in which the character is swimming. But do you believe that the reader would benefit from knowing the color of the instructor’s shirt? Not only does excessive description contribute nothing, it also deteriorates the story. You’re forcing the reader to zone into specific details into which s/he would not normally focus. Skipping the description section appears very lucrative to the reader at this point and compelling the reader to skip parts of your story leads to break in the flow of the story.
There are certain instances in which description is justified. I like to call these ‘moments’. I have a few in my own manuscript. They paint a picture, they freeze that particular scene. I only use moments when I need to pull the reader into the environment, provide a feel of the world. In these instances, I usually attempt to be poetic and mention all that would give the reader a sensation of actually being there: the cool wind, the moonlight reflected in the lake, the forests that lay ahead, the chirping of birds interrupting the stillness of the night… I attempt to engage as many sense organs as possible.
Another perfect way to annihilate an amazing story is to be preachy. When you’re talking about what’s moral and what’s not, you are subsuming a sense of moral superiority. Readers are interested in a character’s views, yet not so much when it talks down upon their own. The significant problems with a moralizing narrative are thus:
You cannot know the reader’s response. A reader may hold a different stance, and unless you are countering the reader’s position, you’re merely annoying him/her every time you preach. One of my experiences with this was while reading Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes where Percy insists on introducing a character called Otrera as a hero, although she waged war against men simply because they were men and killed and enslaved many of them. Percy even joins hands with the legacy she left; a group of female warriors called Amazons who enslave men. Now while my initial stance on Otrera may have been dismissive, the fact that Percy portrays her as a hero is infuriating to me, especially since he preached equality in the earlier chapters of the same book.
Another fault with moralization is that the reader is often not interested in it, especially when it is done in a blunt manner. Hermione, for instance, started SPEW for freeing elves and fighting for their rights, but the ownership of others was an issue raised subtly and not without opposition from other characters in the story.
Bear this in mind: your story must always be relatable. If your protagonist is arguing a controversial point that you feel necessary to express in the story, the least you can do is not let the views go unchallenged. Let there be other characters who oppose that view, so that even those who do not agree with the protagonist’s stand have someone with whom they can relate.
Finally, the third and arguably most important: don’t let your character do what your average reader would not have. I’m not talking about omitting instances of extraordinary bravery or courage, but strictly avoid stupid decisions, especially if you’re portraying your character as a reasonably smart man. The origin of this complaint lies in ‘The Invisible Man’, which I am forced to subject my eyes to for the rest of the year, since it is in our school curriculum. I absolutely detest how the Invisible Man behaves, as it would contradict any logical decision made by any other person in his stead. For instance, the Invisible Man from the very first chapter itself, throws around money, and it is later revealed that he is pretty much broke and compelled to steal, leading to him being caught and subsequently forced to flee. You don’t spend money lavishly when your pocket is empty. You don’t fling around money when you want to avoid attention. His actions seem to defy logic with a teenager’s stubbornness.
The one genre exempted from stupidity is comedy, since every sitcom I’ve watched has required some to be stupid, with the possible exception of ‘Big Bang Theory’ which makes everyone else smart and hence Penny is relatively stupid though not so in absolute terms.
With this I finish informing you about the three ways to ruin your story, though I’m confident you all with devise a hundred more. Again, I wish to remind you of the prophecy of the spirits that proclaimed following this blog will lead you to greater success. Call it superstition if you will, but it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of caution.